Story & World
My lack of focus on the story should be evidence enough that there isn't anything too exciting about it. It didn't help that the text is very poorly translated from the original Japanese. There isn't a lot of Engrish or anything, just piles of awkward phrases. For example, one of the minor storylines involves the boss monster, Swamp Master Mudman, falling in love with the female wizard, Camu. Here is a selection from his heartfelt letter to her after he traps her in a pool:
"I'm not really so bad. Due to my ugliness, I had no other choice. I had to do it this way, to get my hands on you, as I am so ugly. As you have the dabbler, only you can speak to me from now on. Wait for me at the quiet spring reflecting your beautiful face!"
The majority of the text in the game is like this as well, and it really reduces the effectiveness of my James Earl Jones voice mod that I generally use for a game's narrative. My Patrick Stewart and Ice-T mods were likewise ineffective. The humour (and I use the term lightly) found in the game is actually increased slightly from the awkwardness. The story itself is pretty flimsy and sections are only loosely related to each other.
Due to the Shadowgate-inspired adventure portion of the game, exploring is quite enjoyable. Each "room" has a tailor-made graphical depiction of it and a noticeable effort was made to represent the possible path directions as well (even diagonals!). Everything that can be interacted with mostly gives unique text, even if it is just a little bit of silliness. 9/20
Nuthin' but the basics here, though oddly enough, the three main stats are agility, dexterity, and stamina (there's usually always a strength stat). There are quite a few spells gained as Theo increased in levels, but most of them are upgrades from previous versions. The stat-affecting spells, even when they were successful, didn't seem to alter the rest of the combat much and were rarely used.
The entire range of equipment includes four swords (including the Sword of Hope) and four sets of armour. Such variety! I actually missed getting the last set of armour, so that probably had a large impact in the difficulty of the final boss fights. Consumables only include two health replenishers (wheat and barley) and the magic-restoring herbalz in yo' mouth. 3/20
Combat & Monsters
I'm torn on which direction I should give points regarding the combat system. On one hand, the chaotic battles were initially quite fun and well represent how most real combats go down. On the other hand, it's kinda stupid for a RPG to rely so heavily on luck to determine the outcome of the battles. I found that either Theo would get his ass kicked or, if he was a few levels higher, he was the one doing the ass kicking. I suppose it's a wash, then. Hybrid RPGs aren't generally known to have as deep of a combat system as "purer" RPGs, but that still isn't enough to garner any extra pointage.
I didn't care for the majority of the monsters. It was nice to see that most of them had spell-like abilities and not just a standard melee attack but the ones drawn from the classic bestiary did not meet the standards. I mean, come on, goblins that throw fireballs? Apes that can conjure up tornadoes? Get the hell out of here. 5/20
Graphics & Sound
Though the graphical representations of each area are quite well done, they do only take up a small fraction of the entire display. The quality of monster sprites vary quite a lot (The King looks pretty badass; the Shadow is laughably juvenile). There are no real animations during the battles; monster sprites remain static and slide down (towards Theo) when attacking and slide up (away from Theo) when on the defensive.
The music taken from Shadowgate, of course, tickles my nostalgia something fierce but the rest of it is subpar. The few sound effects get the job done but just barely. 6/20
An interesting, and welcome, aspect of the economy is that it caps at a mere 255 gold. The most expensive armour that could be purchased weighed in at 250 gp and the price of consumables goes up as Theo gains levels. A particularly difficult expedition could see Theo using up more herb than he could repurchase after his inevitable death. I like how this money cap more accurately reflects the encumbrance that a metal coin-based economy would necessitate instead of ignoring it completely as most RPGs do.
While most of the RPG facets of the game are done quite poorly, the adventuring portion fares a little better (though still not on par with Shadowgate or Uninvited). All the quests involve fetching an item of some kind and none of them are very hard to get. The most difficult spots are when Theo doesn't have enough levels to take on a boss monster and has to spend some time grinding. Sword of Hope is a good example of trying to blend two genres and ending up with a game in which both elements are debased. 8/20
Final Ranking: 31/100